- Sinn Fein have joined the ranks of the austerity parties.
Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit: "Sinn Fein has now joined the ranks of the austerity parties."
Staying in government with the DUP took precedence over standing by the most vulnerable. The worst-off people in deprived places like Derry will be hardest hit.
People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann: If the Coalition in the South introduced this sort of package, Sinn Fein would be elbowing its way to the front of street protest."
This deal underlines the necessity of a radical alternative to the DUP, SF and other parties of the status quo. People Before Profit will be offering this alternative in the forthcoming Assembly election. We need an election asap – and the election of people with different politics.
It is typical of the deal that new money has been found for a fresh attack on social welfare “fraud”.
Welfare fraud is tiny in the North. The real scandal lies in the huge tax frauds of the big corporations and the super-rich. The Tories should have been told to sod off and sort that out before coming after people in Derry doing the double.
Under the deal, the Assembly will agree not only to the welfare cuts introduced in 2012 but also to the new cuts currently before Westminster. These will see a benefit cap of just £20,000 per annum for families with children - leaving many unable to meet basic needs. It is overwhelmingly children who will suffer.
The new deal includes cuts to all working age benefits, including Job Seekers Allowance, Housing Benefit and even Employment and Support Allowance - a benefit for people found unfit for work. The already miserly rate for each of these will be frozen for four years, while tenants in social housing will see a one percent year-on-year cut to their Housing Benefit. This is all on top of the cuts to Tax Credits, over which Stormont has no control. Disabled people will see their incomes slashed, as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) ends and is replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The Department for Social Development has admitted that a full 25 percent of people currently receiving DLA will not receive anything under PIP, while a further 33 percent will receive a reduced award. Public sector staff numbers are already down by 5,210. A further 2,200 employees are to be pushed out before March 2016. By 2018, some 20,000 public sector jobs will have gone.
Just like Labour in the South, Sinn Fein defends itself by saying the job losses are “voluntary”. But when managements start putting on the squeeze, there can be a thin line between compulsory and voluntary. Moreover, the loss of so many jobs will have a devastating effect on hospitals, schools and wider public services.
Eamonn McCann: "No genuinely anti-austerity party would have signed up to this."
The DUP/SF plan also involves “challenging cost reduction targets for each of the nine new departments’”. That means more austerity.
The agreement is full of the sort of coded neo-liberal language found in austerity programmes all over Europe. Take “structural reform” in health education, housing and justice - that’s code for outsourcing and privatisation. Despite the rhetoric about taxing the rich, DUP/SF have signed up to a reduction in Corporation Tax to 12.5 percent from April 2018. This is a bonanza for big corporations. It means a cut of 7.5 percent in their official tax rate. But even this disguises the reality of enormous tax subsidies to the corporations. In the South, the official rate is 12.5 percent but the actual tax paid by corporations amounts to only 5-6 percent. We can expect similar scams in the North - meaning even less money for public services.
The only issue that SF propagandists can claim a concession on is the bedroom tax, which will not affect current tenants. This measure acted like a lightning rod for anger against the welfare cuts generally. Protecting current (but not future) tenants from the tax helped give DUP/SF political space to endorse the overall welfare cuts package.That might provide cover, but of the fig-leaf variety.Parties should stop talking out of both sides of their mouths.
In the coming weeks, People Before Profit will be challenging Sinn Fein members and supporters to take a different road.